Jeremy Corbyn would hate it but he has achieved a delicious similarity with Tony Blair: he won a landslide victory to become party leader.
Whereas Blair advanced the Labour party to unheard-of successes with three election victories, the new leader of the Labour party looks to be turning the clock back and returning Labour to its socialist roots of former years. To some, this is tragic but to others it represents a new dawn. As one former Shadow Cabinet member said to me last week, “Lord knows where we will be next week.” Now are we beginning to get a clearer idea.
First, no one really knows the man or his followers. Some are aware of his past, and that of those close to Corbyn, but no one really knows what the policy agenda will look like as distinct to that in the manifesto which lost Labour an election. So Labour will have a new policy agenda that will look very different and this, along with the new Shadow Cabinet, will be clearer today and in coming days.
Second, and pretty obviously, the lobbying fraternity, media and business will have to figure out how to engage – if they think it necessary to do so. This may be difficult anyway as Corbyn and Tom Watson, his new deputy, while outwardly friendly are also protective and clannish; I expect there will be many people denied access in the early period with Simon Fletcher acting as the gatekeeper. “We are pro worker and pro business”, Watson said in his victory speech, but with a new Shadow Chancellor in John McDonnell some fear the latter part of that statement may well be severely tested.
Third, the Government will have to respond differently now to this Labour party leadership. I expect their stance to be one of benign indifference with attacks on the policies, not the politician. They will expect, perhaps wrongly, that the new shadow team will regularly shoot themselves in the foot so the public will clearly see old socialist Labour is back and very dangerous to the UK. Their friends in the media will support this line of attack, but why bother when you are so far off from the next election with a 100 seat majority? I believe some of the more pragmatic Conservatives will think through a new approach as the Corbyn style takes shape.
Finally, the expected referendum on Europe next year (or possibly 2017) now looks to be in the balance. Corbyn is not a Euro-phile but is not a complete Euro-sceptic either. He is likely to be popular with some left of centre European leaders but he appears ambivalent about the value of the wider market. The risk of a split Labour vote and a split Conservative vote in that referendum will have UK business quite worried.
I think there will also be three further things that define this next period for the opposition, all reasonably positive for Corbyn and Labour:
1.The first is that the language of the opposition will change and begin to resonate beyond those supporters (and new Labour members) who elected Corbyn. We will have straight talking as opposed to metropolitan blandness and smoothness.
2. Second, the unions are now central and ever-more powerful with this realigned leadership.
3. And last, something I thought would not be the case in this contest despite thinking Corbyn would be the game changer, is that he probably will lead Labour into the next election. Yes, there will be talks of coups and challenges to the leadership may well occur but Saturday’s victory was so significant that the party would look incredibly foolish at this stage to plot in this way.
Jeremy Corbyn has probably made politics a little more fascinating. He may not ultimately succeed in achieving power at the next election but he has already achieved something that no one expected, probably including himself.
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